The dormitories in the School of Earth are not merely built they're grown. The hallway cutting down this particular level seems more like a path cutting through an overgrown forest, with the walls looking like densely-packed trees, with a few gaps here and there that signify doorways or branching corridors, and the floor consisting of densely-packed earth worn bare down the middle, but with clover and grass and a few wildflowers in the corners to each side. The floor is irregular, requiring one to step over a tangling root or around a bush every once in a while, and just down the way, there's a wooden bridge going over a tumbling stream. A cool wind blows through an open window that reveals that the ground outside is actually three floors down.
Iona the Earth Mage, a female Jupani in robes of earthy orange, strolls along, absently stepping over the snaring roots and pushing aside some hanging vines in a casual, familiar way. "Just down this way a bit further. I've been told that you should really like this one. At least, I hope so."
Envoy follows along behind Iona, and tries not to trip over anything. "The other Schools must seem so dull compared to Earth. Do the vines provide running water?" The Exile also tries to peek into the side passages and rooms that they pass.
Iona smirks. "It varies from room to room. Students are allowed to make certain modifications to their rooms. Just as long as you don't make your neighbors regret it. It seems you have a sponsor, Apprentice Envoy, who made sure that you got one of the upper floors. Less of a chance of some apprentice experimenting with the plumbing and giving you an unplanned rain shower in the morning."
The Aeolun blinks in surprise, and moves forward to be alongside the Mage. "A sponsor? Someone in the College?"
Iona frowns, then replies, "Well, I'm not allowed to say. In fact, now that I think of it, I shouldn't have mentioned the part about you having a sponsor. It's supposed to be hush-hush for some reason."
Envoy finally nods. "All right. I'm sure they'll introduce themselves eventually." Smiling once again, she asks, "Is there a landing area on the upper floor for fliers? I don't suppose many winged types become Earth Mages, do they?"
Iona answers, "No, not many, really. And, actually, the School of Earth is pretty open here and there. It's fairly easy to get in and out. Fliers could just use one of the balconies. But we don't have a designated landing area, per se."
Iona smiles as she says, "Ah! Here we are!" She stops at the end of the hallway, where the corridor turns right. Immediately at the end of the hall is an arched "window" formed by a couple of curving wooden forms. Just to the left, though, some tightly woven trunks seem to be weeping sap … sap that comes together to form an amber door, faintly translucent, through which can dimly be seen a round chamber.
Envoy gasps at the sight, her right hand immediately going to her chest to clutch the amber nugget worn around her neck. "How… how did you know I had an affinity for amber?"
Iona says, "I was told to 'find something with amber in it'. And this is the best I could find, with what's available."The wolf smiles. "Now then … shall we?" She gestures toward the faintly liquid-looking door. "That branch there that seems to be sticking out in front of the door? That's actually part of the door It's a handle. After a while, you'll get used to how things work here."
Smiling, Envoy reaches for the branch door handle.
The amber door slides sideways, the door handle going from one side to the other. The overall effect is fairly smooth, with just a bit of the amber door sticking out to one side, with the handle attached to it.
Some vine curtains hang from just inside the doorway, presently parted to each side and looped over branches that serve as hooks.
Iona adds, "If you want privacy, there's a simple cantrip I can teach you that causes the amber windows here to darken or brighten."
Envoy is practically beaming now. "A cantrip? There must be another one for solidifying the sap into amber too then, right?" As she pokes about the room, she also asks, "What other magicks are used to maintain this room?"
Iona nods. "Yes, hardening sap into amber is another. And there are more for shaping and sculpting amber." She smirks. "There are also some spells for 'hardening' your shapes, so some prankster can't come along and remold them on you very easily."
The apartment is much larger than Envoy's room at the Bards' Guild. For one thing, it consists of more than one room.
The ceiling is perhaps a bit lower than it could be perhaps hinting at a shorter previous occupant, or just not accounting for the current one having a pair of wings to account for.
The main chamber is circular, with a crystal clear pool in its center. Some lumpy-looking amber hangs from the ceiling, and trickles of water fall down from the low points to land in the pool.
The pool is shallow, perhaps just large enough to bathe in, with several rocks lined around its rim.
"It's so big!" the Aeolun exclaims. "Did a Journeyman create all of this, then recently graduate? I can't believe it would have stood vacant for long."
The floor is comprised of densely packed wood shavings, giving it a cushion-like, spongy feel under the feet.
Iona nods. "Journeyman Autumn-Breeze was the previous occupant. She's recently found employment in a far away place."
Envoy blinks at the name, and looks to Iona. "What species is she, if I might ask?"
The "furniture", such as it is, consists of trunks and branches that come out here or there to serve as a couch, chairs, shelves, and such, supplemented by slabs of stone or hardened amber.
Iona smirks. "Skeek. You may have to adjust the furniture a bit to your liking."
Giggling, Envoy asks, "Is that how most apprentices learn new spells, to be able to modify their rooms?"
Iona nods. "It's a great way to experiment. Your room is your laboratory, so to speak. Oh. Let me show you the balcony… " She walks across the room to the other side, ducking under a hanging branch, and slides open another amber window/door, revealing a tight cluster of large branches outside that jut out, giving a view of the court below, where one can see through all of the leafy branches that stick out from the dorm building. "One downside of having a living room is that you have to keep maintaining it. But then, housecleaning should be nothing new."
Iona says, "Anyway, it looks like you'll have all this to yourself. It was meant to be big enough for two or three … but Autumn-Breeze was a pretty special Oh! The fruit is ripe!"
A rainbow of fruits hang from some nearby boughs … none of which should really be growing off of the same branch, really.
Envoy steps outside and takes a deep breath of air. "Does it have a name? The room, that is, or the tree?"
Iona says, "A name? Well, not really. Not unless you give it one."
Envoy looks around the balcony. "I wouldn't feel right naming it myself. When I create my own home, I'll name that instead."
"Oh my," Envoy says, peering closely at the fruits to see if there are any signs ofgrafting. "Does this mean there is magic that can work on a cellular level?"
There might be grafting. The branches look slightly different where they hold different types of fruit.
Iona sniffs at the vines. "Oh, and the vines have redberries! Be careful, though. Sometimes they taste sour. It takes a bit of work to make sure they take to the grafting well."
"Now then … " Iona looks as if she's suddenly remembered something, then exclaims, "Oh yes! There should be some robes inside for you."
Envoy turns away from the fruit for the moment. "Already? Does the room make them?"
Iona laughs! "I think I heard of someone trying that before, but I don't know how that turned out. No, no, these were made for you. I guess someone already had your measurements."
"Somebody certainly seems to know a lot about me," Envoy ponders, still smiling as she tries to figure out who her sponsor might be, based on their familiarity with her.
Iona says, "Well, you're quite the notorious one. Hmm. Mind if I try the lovan?"
"I don't mind at all," Envoy says, and goes inside to find her apprentice robes. Notorious or not, she's pretty sure her measurements aren't public knowledge. "Maybe the costumer at Alysin's told somebody," she wonders to herself as she looks for the clothing.
Iona fumbles with the lovan, trying to pull it off the branch. "Urf!" As she does, one of the other fruits is knocked free, and goes falling. "Oops!"
Envoy finds the bedroom just to the left as she walks back into the pool chamber. The bed, it seems, is literally made of roses. Laid out at the foot of the bed, pressed nice and neat, are three sets of amber-colored robes, cut to make room for wings.
A sinuous white form far below the balcony winds its way past the building, trailing a few blue spheres. A black circle at the front reflects a bit of light from its glossy surface… and this is what the fruit strikes, knocking what seems to be a black bowl hat askew with a resounding "BOK!"
The white figure stops abruptly with a hiss, straightening its hat and looking up.
Iona suddenly blushes, and quickly retreats from view, ducking back into the main chamber.
The Exile changes into one of the robes after testing to see if the actual threads are made of amber, or if the fabric is just dyed that color, then returns to the main chamber. "What's the matter, Iona, was the fruit too ripe?" she guesses, noticing the blushing ears of the lupine.
Iona says, "Oh! Well … no … I was just a little clumsy, that's all. Oh! That looks nice on you." The fabric appears to be cloth, dyed amber, rather than made from the real thing.
Envoy smiles and turns around. "I have a golden zolk dress, but this is nearly as nice I think. The very first garment I ever had was blue, and made of spun glass fibers."
Iona looks impressed. "Spun glass fibers? I didn't know that was possible!" She smiles wistfully. "Well, hmm. I wonder if I could experiment with that idea… "
"I'm sure that a good glassblower can make you some," Envoy says, although she really has little idea of how glass is made via technology, aside from it requiring lots of heat.
Iona raises an eyebrow. "I must meet this glassblower."
Envoy says, "I know how to make it one molecule at a time, but I don't think that's a very practical approach when using magic."
Iona laughs again. "No, no. You'll learn a bit about theories of how matter is constructed about molecules and atoms and the elements, and you'll even learn about the humors, too … but you won't be using magic quite that way."
An odd scent begins filtering through the foliage. Slightly familiar, but the greenery changes it a bit, making it smell somewhat like a chemical spill in a marsh. Disagreeable at best.
Iona's nose wrinkles. Her ears pale. "Ugh."
Envoy sniffs the air. "Oh, that must be Spirit Mage Qing approaching. I didn't realize there were magical kinds of humor. Most of the jokes I've heard couldn't affect much."
There comes a wooden rapping noise from outside the door. Tunk-tunk-tunk.
Iona frets, "Ah … I forgot to shut the doo Oh, it must have closed by itself. It looks like there's Oh! Mage Qing! I should have recognized the sm Oops." Her ears blush.
Envoy giggles, and goes to slide the door open. "Hello, Mage Qing. Were you coming to see me?"
Iona forces a smile as she waves to the Rokuga. "Uhm … I'm really sorry about that … uh… "
The pallid mage in the doorway slithers inward as the door is opened. His black lacquered hat is tilted slightly to one side, and a pulpy smear sticks to it slightly off-center. "Oh, it's you, Iona. Never mind whatever triviality you have to babble to me about. I want to spend as little time here as possible, being bombarded by pranksters." He holds up a heavily bruised fruit in one hand.
Qing hisses, "If I found out who dropped this on me, they'll have so many demerits, they won't graduate until the First Ones return."
Iona says, "Well! I guess you're all settled in now, Envoy. I'd best be going! Bye!" She shuffles for the door.
"It's natural for fruit to fall when it's grown ripe, Mage Qing," Envoy says. "Oh, goodbye, Iona. When do I start my studies?"
Iona leans back in the room. "You'll have an orientation tomorrow morning. And be sure to get up at sunrise."
With that, the wolf quickly heads out and into the hallway.
The witchdoctor flicks his tongue. "I had heard you've been enrolled here, Exile." He glances at her, then stares at the room past her, mumbling to himself.
Envoy blinks at the hasty departure, and says to Qing, "I don't sleep much anyway, so I should be early. How did you know to find me here, sir?"
"I didn't," comes the reply. The Rokuga produces a lens from one of his pockets, and begins peering through it, muttering incomprehensibly before continuing. "I sensed something peculiar here, and came to see about it."
"Something peculiar other than me?" Envoy asks. "Actually, I'm a bit concerned. I've just been given this suite for my sole use, and apparently have an unknown sponsor in the College someone that knows quite a bit about me."
Outside, it starts to get dark, as the sun sets. However, the lack of sunlight is compensated as some amber panels partially hidden above the boughs that form the ceiling begin to glow faintly.
The witchdoctor nods curtly. "And you'd best behave yourself while you are here. I have not forgotten about Isstan, and I still don't trust you," he hisses flatly as he swivels in place. He comes to a stop, staring at a specific spot for a moment. "Hmm."
Envoy asks, "You don't suppose someone is trying to bribe or manipulate me, do you? I know there is at least one mage on this world that has made a major discovery and may bear me ill will."
The Aeolun starts staring at the same part Qing finds so fascinating.
"Yes? Who?" Qing's face remains impassive, but he continues to remain fixated on the spot, tucking his lens back into a pocket.
"I don't know," Envoy says. "I thought it best not to learn their identity when I had the chance, for fear it would force them to act against me."
The only thing that might be fascinating, for all Envoy can tell, about where Qing would be looking, is the amber door leading out to the balcony. It appears to have closed on its own.
Envoy smiles, and asks, "So, is my room haunted? And have you heard any more about our officially dead mutual acquaintance?"
The snake flicks his tongue once more. "Does this have anything to do with the situation involving Cryona?" He raises his arms in front of himself, gently placing his palms together. He begins murmuring to himself.
A few pieces of amber in the ceiling continue to brighten, bathing the room in a glow equivalent to candle-light, and about as steady.
Envoy watches the golden light for a moment, then says, "That's what I was asking you."
The spirit mage stands there for a few moments, then lets his arms drop. "… No. No, it would seem I am mistaken. What I took to be a disturbance here must only be the simultaneous experimentation of the students in this dormitory."
Eyebrows raised, Envoy says, "This structure is alive. Are you saying it might have a spirit too?"
There's a knock on the amber door to the room. The amber door, being translucent, reveals the visitor to be a young Cervani doe, with a Lapi girl standing next to her.
Envoy goes to open the door again. "Hello," she says to her new visitors, smiling.
"In a broad, generalized sense, one could say that," hisses Qing. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his snout, and tugs his hat lower again. "But I have no more time to waste being annoyed by student projects. I will take my leave of you, Exile, but be advised that you represent the Collegia now, in some small manner. Be careful of how you conduct yourself." He turns to head toward the door, but stops short at the arrivals.
The Cervani and Lapi duck their heads in the room. The Lapi immediately blanches, and covers her mouth as she turns away. The Cervani wrinkles her nose, but still smiles politely. "We heard you just moved in. We're your neighbors. We wanted to give you a dorm-warming gift." She gestures to a covered basket her Lapi companion is carrying.
"Oh," Envoy says, honestly surprised. "Please do come in then. My name is Envoy, and this is Mage Qing of the Sphere of Spirit."
The Rokuga greets Envoy's dorm-mates with, "Stand aside, apprentices. I have business to attend to."
The Lapi and Cervani let out quiet gasps, and quickly stand to each side … but they're both holding onto the basket, and they have a brief "you take it, no you take it!" tug of war, until the Lapi at last snatches it back and stands clear of the doorway.
With no further comment, the serpent pours himself between the pair, and disappears down the hallway, his aroma trailing reluctantly after him.
"Please accept my apologies," Envoy says to her fellow apprentices. "Mage Qing isn't usually so rude. Well, compared to some of his peers, anyway."
The two apprentices let out sighs of relief, the Lapi letting go of her nose, then they duck back in. The Cervani fans the air in front of her muzzle. "Oh! No trouble. He's a hero, you know. He's entitled to be rude."
The Lapi giggles. "They call him Mage Stink." Her ears turn slightly pink. "But we don't call him that!"
The Cervani sets the basket down on a low table, and the smell of fresh-baked bread fights valiantly against the lingering odors of the Rokuga. She pulls the cloth aside, revealing a small loaf. "We make it ourselves. Or, that is, we make most of the ingredients. We get a bit of help from Hotfoot. Er, I mean, Lightfoot."
The Lapi stage-whispers to the Cervani, "We're supposed to introduce ourselves!"
Envoy opens the balcony door to let the room air out a bit. "I hope I can return the favor and prepare some food for you sometime," she says with a smile.
The Cervani says, "Oh! Well, I'm Apprentice Summer Forrest. And this is Apprentice Spring-Meadow. We're really sorry to see Autumn-Breeze go We used to have three seasons all together!" Both Lapi and Cervani giggle.
Envoy smiles, and asks, "Did you choose those names yourselves, or are they your given names? They seem particularly suited to this field."
The Lapi confesses, "Well, Summer's name is a birth-name. Mine's chosen. But it was before we got rooms together, so it's still a coincidence, honest!"
The Cervani nods. "My name's pretty common where I come from."
The Aeolun giggles. "I'm sure a Chaos Mage would tell you that nothing is a coincidence, but there doesn't seem to be one around at the moment."
"How about you?" blurts out the Cervani, then she amends, "I mean … we didn't catch your name?"
"Is it true that you're an Exile?" asks the Lapi, not waiting for an answer to the first question.
Envoy grins, and says, "I suppose my full name would be Cultural Envoy of Lothrhyn, Autonomous Probe Version Three, and yes I'm an Exile. I prefer to just be called Envoy though."
Summer looks impressed. Spring-Meadow mouths a "wow".
"Are you from Rephidim, Spring-Meadow?" Envoy asks. "I'd guess Summer would be from Nordika, right?"
The Lapi nods. "How'd you guess?"
Summer says, "See? I told you she was special. Any ordinary apprentice wouldn't get this room." She turns back to Envoy. "Anyway, we hope you like the bread."
Envoy waves her hand. "Oh, it's just that almost all of the Lapis I've met come from Rephidim." Curious, she asks, "Is there something special about this room? Some sort of special enchantment that Autumn-Breeze left, maybe?"
Spring-Meadow nods. "Oh, yes. Everybody leaves enchantments on the room. Of course, you have to keep them 'recharged' or they'll wear off." She points at the ceiling. "Like the amber-glow. But that's pretty easy. You'll learn that pretty early on well before anything wears off."
"You two must know a lot. Have you been apprentices long?" Envoy asks.
The Cervani nods, while Spring-Meadow shakes her head.
Spring-Meadow explains, "Well, we're still a way off from becoming Journeymen."
Giggling again, Envoy says, "I was afraid my neighbors would all be cubs, since I'm just starting out. What do you do when you aren't studying and practicing?"
Summer says, "Usually sleeping or eating!"
Spring-Meadow amends, "Or classes. Seriously, though, we sometimes see things in the city."
Summer says, "Usually with Hotfoot and Rockjaw."
Spring-Meadow pokes Summer's ribs. "Lightfoot."
Summer ouches. "Lightfoot."
"I guess those are nicknames?" Envoy asks. "Is Lightfoot a Fire Mage? Rockjaw certainly sounds like a Stone Mage."
Summer nods. "Lightfoot is a Fire Mage. Spring-Meadow thinks he's cu OW! Stop poking me in the ribs! Anyway, Rockjaw's real name is 'Vesper', but don't call him that."
"Lapi and Jupani?" Envoy guesses.
Summer and Spring-Meadow nod.
Summer adds, "We'd be happy to have you along … that is, if you don't mind hanging around with a bunch of saplings like us, that is."
Spring-Meadow giggles, "And a matchstick and a pebble!"
Envoy smiles. "It sounds like fun! I don't have many friends near my own… uh… age. I'm curious about what young people like to do."
Summer nods. "Well … we'll see you tomorrow, most likely."
Envoy asks, "Will you be at the orientation in the morning?"
Spring-Meadow shakes her head. "Oh, no! We're already oriented!" She smiles.
Envoy giggles. "Oh, of course. Do you like fruit? Autumn-Breeze's last bunch is turning ripe, and I couldn't possibly eat it all before it spoiled."
Both of the younger apprentices nod. "We're vegetarians," Spring-Meadow says by way of fact.
Envoy leads her guests to the balcony. "I can eat just about anything, I suppose, but I don't eat a lot unless I'm cold or recovering from damage."
The two visitors seem distracted by the fruits growing there. "Oh! Look! She's got a bread-fruit!" Summer points at the lovan, which Iona obviously failed to pick. It looks like a different fruit is missing from the balcony nearby and Envoy's memory reports it to be the same type of fruit that Qing was holding earlier.
Out of the corner of Envoy's eye, there's a faint flicker of movement. Something glowing faintly?
Envoy smirks as she realizes why Iona was so hasty in taking her leave, and turns her head towards the flicker while her guests pick their fruit.
For a moment, Envoy catches sight of a little ghostly apparition that looks vaguely Naga-like … and then it quickly disappears. Envoy then hears a whisper in her left ear. "Shh… Don't move or speak. I am a messenger from Qing. You are being spied upon by some outside party through magical means."
While the two apprentices name the fruits and seem generally impressed by the collection, the impish snake-spirit continues, "Go about your business, but do not speak of anything you do not wish to be heard by potential enemies. We will learn as much as we can, as quickly as we can."
And then, the little spirit disappears in a light puff.
Taking the spirit messenger's advice, Envoy turns back to her guests. "Autumn-Breeze must have traveled extensively to find so many fruits. I didn't know Savan strains could be grown in Rephidim at all."
Summer says, "Well, you can bend the rules a lot with Earth Magic."
Envoy smiles, "I suppose so. For my test, I grew a miniature tree with white bark and gold leaves."
"For your test?" repeats Spring-Meadow. "Wow."
"Could we see it sometime?" asks Summer, in between bites on the spongy inner core of alovan fruit.
Envoy blinks, "Isn't that what everyone does for their Nature test? I can show you when it's replanted in the garden. What were your entry tests like?"
Summer says, "Well, I just sprouted a flower."
Spring-Meadow says, "I sprouted a flower, too, but mine didn't bloom right off. But they still said I had potential."
Summer says, "You know … we really ought to be getting back now." She sighs.
Envoy smiles. "Well, feel free to drop by whenever you like. I don't sleep for very long, so I'm awake most of the night anyway."
Spring-Meadow says, "We'll catch you right after orientation, okay? Nice meeting you!" The two younger apprentices head back to the amber front door.
Envoy sees her neighbors out, and nibbles on the bread they brought while wondering what to do about the spy. Whatever it is, it's too subtle for her to pick up with her new sense of magic.